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Sword Construction 101


Parts of the European sword:

Most of these terms may be familiar. Not all swords have a Fuller or Ricasso. The Fuller is a groove down the middle of the blade, sometimes called a blood groove, though that's not what it is for. Adding a Fuller lets the sword-maker remove steel from the blade, making it lighter, without reducing it's strength (like an I-beam). A Ricasso is a dull part of the blade just above the hilt that could be gripped in addition to the hilt to give more control, or for fighting in close quarters. Kind of like choking up on the bat in baseball. 

What is a tang?
A sword's "tang" refers to the part of the blade that runs through the handle.  

Full Tang Swords
For a sword to be functional, it must be strong and a full tang provides this. A full tang sword is made from a solid piece of steel thick and at least half as wide as the blade itself.  In essence, the blade IS the handle, it just has wooden side pieces or a leather wrap attached for a better and more comfortable grip.  This is the strongest sword tang available (and most expensive).  

1. Let's examine the hilt of this fine sword by Cold Steel.

2. Here is an "x-ray" of what the blade and full tang might look like inside the hilt. The tang is made by removing a small amount of steel from the edges of the blade; just enough to fit the blade into the hilt. There are different mehods of attaching the hilt to the tang. See below.


The strongest but most difficult method of attaching a full tang to the hilt would be to have the pommel shaped from the tang itself during the forging process. So the pommel, tang and blade are all the same piece of steel. 

A more common method of attaching a full tang to the hilt is to make a small threaded area at the end of the full tang. The pommel can then be drilled and tapped and screwed tightly onto the tang.


1. Another method of attaching a full tang to the hilt is by "peening" it. It is passed through a hole in the pommel and then hammered down like a rivet.

2. Then the protruding tang would be filed down and polished to match the rest of the pommel. 



Many of the decorative swords on the market are designed for display purposes only.  Because of this, they don't need to be functional or strong, and so most have what is called a "rat-tail tang",  where a thin piece of metal, usually no more than 1/4" to 1/2"  wide, runs through the handle and connects to the pommel.

Graphical example of a rat-tail tang. Note weld at the crossguard where the rat-tail is attached to the blade. This is a weak spot where a decorative sword will usually break if struck against something.

Four examples of welded on, rat tail tangs....

Ferdinand construction.jpg (135878 bytes) Gold Charles V construction.jpg (72904 bytes) Black Tizona construction.jpg (145439 bytes) Tizona construction.jpg (112084 bytes)

Learn more about sword maintenance and safety on our Sword Care page....

Learn more about Battle Ready Functional Swords on our Sword 101 page...

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